We sat around my sister’s dining room table, laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes, reliving and rehashing the events of the night before. My aunt and uncle “fishing” for each other on the dance floor. My brother’s hilarious toast to the bride and groom (my other brother). My cousin’s Russian girlfriend responding to someone’s question of “Where did he find you?” with “Amazon Prime.”

There is nothing like a wedding reception at a whiskey distillery to keep things entertaining. Since my husband, a Navy helicopter pilot, deployed in early October, moments like these have been rare. While I was surrounded by family, laughing with abandon, it felt as if he were simply in the next room watching the Chiefs game with some of the guys, instead of on a ship, somewhere in the Middle East.

As my aunt told a story, my newly turned 5-year-old climbed on my lap. She quietly slid my phone off the table, and asked in a whisper if she could look at pictures. I kissed her head and nodded as I laughed along with the other adults. Moments later, we were all interrupted as my daughter started to cry. Not sniffling. I’m talking lose-your-mind-something-is-really-wrong-wailing-hysterically kind of cry. I looked down at my phone and saw what stared back at her: a “today in history” picture of my husband holding her in the hospital, his face full of the wonder and joy that new parenting brings.

“Daddy,” she said, sobbing. “I miss my daddy.” I scooped her up and carried her upstairs to a rocking chair to console her. My father (her Papa) and her cousin Finley came up to help soothe her, but she wasn’t having it. “I don’t want YOUR daddy,” she cried to me. “Not Finley’s daddy, or Addie’s daddy, I want MY daddy.” Over, and over again she said it, until a funny video of her playing at the pool with my husband (accompanied by promises of doing that again soon) consoled her. Those 20 minutes felt like 20 years. Finally calm, we walked downstairs to find a quiet dining room, where the tears of laughter in everyone’s eyes had quickly been replaced by ones of deep sympathy and palpable sadness.

Later that night, once the children were asleep, I found my generally stoic brother (Addie’s daddy) in the basement, also in tears. As he wrapped his arms around me, he offered: “This just seems so hard for you guys. Is it really worth it?”

My husband and I started dating while he was in flight school; there has never been a version of us where he wasn’t in the military. We’ve been together for 10 years, all of it colored by his service. It’s easy to focus on the bad, the hard and the tragic that comes with being a military family. The missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. The back-to-back deployments. The pacing when the news reports a helicopter down, or sailors detained in Iran, and you haven’t received an “I’m O.K.” message yet. The awful, guilt-ridden relief you experience when you learn that your spouse will come home to you and your two children, when you know there are others who won’t. The waiting, the praying, the wishing — no, it’s not worth it. Not even a little.

But those bad moments are just one piece of it. We’ve been to Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore and all over the world. We have visited places I had only read about. I stood on a stage in Pensacola, Fla., and pinned wings of gold to his uniform for the first time. One night in Guam, he gave me a flag that had flown over his base in Iraq and thanked me for loving and supporting him. We have made countless, incredible friends we never would have met without the Navy.

Even the hard parts (like now) have their sweetness. A few days ago, my husband called our daughter on her birthday. Because he couldn’t get her a gift this year, he said, he learned to play her favorite song on the ukulele. Thousands of miles away, as he sang, “I lava you,” she sat at the kitchen table, beaming from ear to ear.

Years from now, our two children may remember how hard this deployment was for them. They may recall the heartache, the sadness and the occasional tears. I hope not. Instead, I hope they remember the joy they felt on Christmas when they found Santa left a “hug” from Daddy (traced paper hands held together by ribbon) in their stockings. I hope they remember writing him love letters and looking forward to him coming home. I want them to remember the bedtime snuggles with me telling them goofy stories about their father that make them giggle. I’ll bet our 5-year-old always remembers the birthday her daddy called from his faraway ship, just to sing her a song.

Is it worth it? I tell my brother I’m not sure. But I’m not sure I would have it any other way.

T.T Robinson